Snakes In the Morning

Before proceeding further with this blog, I have to make a note related to my previous blog. There was a picture of a bird in that blog that I was not able to identify in a timely manner. I now know that the bird is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. These birds breed in North America during this time of year and fly to South America during the non-breeding winter season. They are shy birds that apparently stay hidden most of the time. I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to see it! Incidents like this give our outdoor activities that extra zing!

I went for a bike ride last Friday, starting out from Rileys Lock, and heading north. I had not been on the trail too long before I came upon a lady who was stopped on the trail. She stopped me and told me that there was a snake on the trail. A somewhat smaller-sized northern copperhead lay in the middle the trail enjoying the cool of the early morning. In case one is not aware of it, these snakes are venomous and can be deadly.

The young lady wanted to proceed north with her travels, but was very nervous about the reaction the snake might have to her attempt to get by. The two of us stood for a while strategizing about how to get around the snake. I was thinking of riding past it on the bike. While we were standing around, a bald eagle landed on a tree nearby. I could not get a very good picture of the bird.I wonder if the eagle was attracted by the activity on the trail.

I eventually rode past the snake, right in front of it. It might have turned its head to keep an eye on me as I rode by, but I was not too sure. My focus was on my safety! I stopped after had I passed the snake to take a picture of the bald eagle that was still hanging around, but the bird took off before I was ready with the camera. The young woman finally decided that she was not going to risk moving past the snake.She turned to head back towards Rileys Lock.

Having seen one snake this early in the morning, I was prepared to see more of them as the ride progressed. And it happened! The reptile sightings actually took place only towards the end of the ride – on two occasions.

The first time was when a long and thin black rat snake crossed the trail.It was moving fast enough that I my attempt to frame a picture capturing the entire length of the snake in the picture was unsuccessful.

The second time was toward the end of the ride. I saw a big and fat black rat snake beside the trail. I think the snake was getting ready to cross the trail. It turned and quickly slithered back into the grass when I stopped to take the picture.

It was towards the end of the ride, a little bit after I stopped for the second black rat snake, that I realized that my lens cap had fallen off the camera somewhere along the way, probably after I had taken the picture of this last snake. Something like this was bound to happen some day because the Olympus lens caps are, in general, designed very poorly from the point of view of staying attached to the front of the lens. You have to make an extra effort to make sure they are locked into place after you put them back over the lens. They might seem to be securely attached even when they are not. There have been several occasions in this past where the lens caps on my lenses have fallen off, but I had always been fortunate thus far to have been able to find the piece that dropped off. Not this time! I returned home “capless” in spite of my effort to find the lens cap by riding back along the trail – back to the place where I thought I had taken the last picture.

Luckily, it is not too difficult to get a replacement lens cap.

I want to finish the blog with this picture of a swallow taken at Whites Ferry. This was one of many on a wire. I cannot figure out what kind of a swallow this is.

I will post more of these pictures on Pbase eventually.

When The Old Becomes New Once Again

Some folks know that I have biked literally a few thousand miles in the last few years. While I have done it as a pastime, the primary driver, the primary motivator if you will, has been the occurrence of certain events, certain planned bike rides with my friends, that I needed to train for. Or it has been a case of where I needed to prove something to myself – like the ability to get back on the bike after a major fall during one of the aforementioned rides. Lacking any such motivating forces this year, it has taken me a long time to get back on my bicycle this year. But it did happen finally in spite of all the regular excuses. And I am hoping that this is not the last time I ride a bike this year.

The process of getting back on the bicycle for the first time each year poses its own challenges. Things that you take for granted as a part of a regular schedule can become challenges once again. Where did I leave my bicycling gear last year? Do I have enough shorts, tops, or even gloves, stored away? Where did I put these things? What happened to my favorite gloves? What are the things that I want to carry during a ride, and how will I carry them – a bottle of water, a Clif bar, my keys, my smart phone, etc.. Do I really need my wallet during the ride? Do I carry stuff in the pockets on the back of my shirt, or in the pockets of my shorts, or in the pockets of my camera bag, during the ride? Will I remember to close the zippers for the pockets of my shorts so that stuff does not fall out at some random place while I am riding?  None of this is a habit any more.

What is the state of the bike after all this time? The tires are flat after many months of sitting in the garage. Will they hold the air in once I pump them up? Where did I leave the bicycle pump? Should I not oil the bicycle chain?  I need to find the instructions for doing that.

Is my bicycle helmet alright? Is it where I think I left it last year? Should I have gotten a new helmet? (I already know the answer to that last question, but I am not good at planning ahead.)

How do I get the bike to the trail? I used to throw it into the back of the Prius in the past (as talked about in a paragraph here), but we have now switched the use of the family cars. Is the old bike rack still functional? What adjustments need to be made to attach it to the back of the Honda Civic? Have I attached the rack securely?  Have I attached the bike to the rack securely? As I drive to the trail head, my eyes are shifting to the rear-view mirror more often than usual, to make sure the bike has not disappeared from view somewhere along the way. How the heck did I have the nerve to drive long distances on the highways with a bike tied to the back of the car when I was young? Was I young and stupid? (Don’t answer that last question!)

And then one arrives at the trail head. You take the bike off the rack and check that everything is in order. There are days in the past when I have ridden off without my helmet or gloves. That did not happen on Thursday at Pennyfield Lock.

And then you are biking. It all feels quite effortless. The bike feels too small. But that is the same way I feel every year when I start biking for the first time. But then you get used to it very quickly. It is all coming back. You ease into the routine. There is no reason to hurry. You can see how the muscles feel after many months of disuse. I have no worries. I have done this so many times that it is all going to come back – the rhythm, the zen of the bicycle trail.

And then I am off, and it is hard to stop. If I do, I will lose the magical feeling. I do not even stop for the flowers by the trail. The air is cool, you encounter the occasional human being. At this point, there are some people who are zipping past me with a sense of purpose. There are others making their way at a more leisurely pace. I know that I will eventually join the first group. That is how my mind works.

After a while, you begin to feel the effort of the biking in the muscles. It is time to slow down, perhaps stop for a drink of water, and/or a pee.

The trail transforms itself in different sections – mud and potholes in the first part (smooth), the roughness and unevenness of the differently sized pebbles on the trail in the second part (bumpy), and, finally, the new crushed gravel for the last section of the ride (cushioned) all the way up to Whites Ferry.  The sounds of the wheels change as the surfaces change.  The rhythm becomes new once again – and then you get used to the new rhythm.

I stopped for the turtle I found on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had obviously emerged from the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not slow down for the green heron that was flying by me, but the still great blue heron caught my attention.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped and walked back to where it was standing on a branch over the canal. So engrossed was it in looking for fish in the water that it did not move an inch during the whole time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was relaxation time at Whites Ferry before I started biking back to Pennyfield Lock.

The statue of a confederate soldier that used to stand on this pedestal (on private land) at Whites Ferry has been torn down by vandals.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe statue formerly used to stand at the Montgomery County government offices in Rockville. It was donated to the owners of the ferry a few years ago after the political environment in the county shifted. The owners of the ferry did not know what they were getting themselves into. They now want to have nothing to do with the controversy regarding confederate monuments. The even renamed their ferry boat almost immediately.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt used to be called the General Jubal A. EarlyJubal Early was a Confederate General during the civil war.

It was nice to see that the operations at Whites Ferry seemed to be in decent shape despite all of our recent troubles.   The local store at the ferry site looked like it was getting decent foot traffic from the summer visitors who are flocking to the outdoors more than usual during this time of COVID-19. I was completely in the zone by the time I started riding back.  As I expected, I was picking up the pace as I rode.  It seems to be a natural tendency on my part. It was a different state of mind from when I started the ride.  This time, I took a break for a snack and water at Sycamore Landing. I also stopped to take a picture of the flowers I had ignored on the way out. I initially thought these flowers were Dames Rocket, but they have the wrong number of petals. I think these are Wild Sweet William, a kind of phlox.

There was the frog that hopped on to the trail in front of me as I was biking, and then, as I slowed down hoping that it would stop so that I could take its picture, decided that it was going to take a circular route back to the side of the trail that it had come from.  It all happened in an instant.

There were the opportunities for further examination when the butterflies flew past me, and I considered whether to stop and turn my head to see if they had landed somewhere.  The only time I really stopped, the butterfly kept going in the opposite direction that I was biking in, following another bike rider who was headed that way.  It seemed to be able to keep pace with the rider easily.  One other time, the image of a black butterfly with red stripes on both wings imprinted itself in my brain the moment it flew past me, and then the moment was gone.  Someone could tell me that I only imagined that moment, and I would not have anything concrete to offer to counter that assertion.

I got a surprise as I got closer to the end of the ride. I found this snake across the trail.  Although it was much smaller than the version of the snake I had found the previous year on the Capital Crescent Trail, it was not very difficult to recognize the Northern Copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes in Maryland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe eyes on this snake give me the creeps even now, many days later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time I was done with the ride, I was back in the swing of things.  My overall confidence level was back to normal.  I stopped the GPS device when I got to the car.  I had done over 32 miles in over three hours.  I loaded my bike on the bike rack once again, and drove home the recuperate and recover.

I hope this is not the last ride this year.

Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.

I passed something colorful on the trail.  It was long and had some patterns on it.  I was pretty sure it was a snake.  I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it.  I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time.  That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back.  It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera.  There was nobody else around as I took my pictures.  The reptile did not move.

I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake.  I called out that there was a snake in front of him.  He ignored me completely.  He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to.  He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill.  He did not really care about the snake.  I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake.  Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them.  We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince this was a snake I was unfamiliar with,  I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen.  Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile.  But I needed confirmation for my finding.  That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.Identification of snake(The links in the image above are this and this.)

I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)

As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes.  I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational.  The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic.  I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake.  In this case, my caution was justified!

In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual.  It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend.  We did not see any snakes during that hike.